Youngstown's residency rule will be enforced as usual while the law is challenged.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mayor Jay Williams has made good on a vow to challenge Ohio's nearly complete abolishment of residency requirements for public employees.
The city of Youngstown filed suit against the state Monday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, just as the state's new law on residency rules went into effect.
The city wants a judge to declare that the new law infringes on the city's home rule powers and violates sections of the Ohio Constitution, making the law change invalid, inapplicable and unenforceable.
If the city loses in common pleas court, Williams is willing to file additional lawsuits "all the way up, including the Ohio Supreme Court and beyond," he said Monday. A federal judge could declare this to be a state issue, he added.
In the meantime, Youngstown's residency rule for police, firefighters and other municipal employees will remain in effect. "We're going to maintain our position as it's always been," Williams said.
At issue is when the city's right to exercise its power of self-government prevails over state laws.
What voters wanted
Youngstown voters approved a residency requirement for all employees, elected officials and appointees to the city's boards and commissions in 1986, according to the lawsuit. The state law change that lifted residency rules passed the Legislature in January and was signed by Gov. Bob Taft.
The city's suit lists various ways in which the city benefits from residency requirements, including:
UIndividuals who live and work in the city are committed to its betterment.
UResidents are more knowledgeable about city issues and conditions.
UEmployees are easily available for emergencies.
UResidency "avoids the development of a work force composed of suburbanites who enforce laws and impose burdens on Youngstown residents only to return to their suburban homes after work with the tax dollars of the people of the city of Youngstown and the resulting resentment such a circumstance is likely to generate."
UResidency promotes city real estate values.
What new law allows
The new state law, which was sponsored by Sen. Timothy J. Grendell, R-Chesterland, does allow communities to pass laws that would restrict employees to live in contiguous counties.
"There is no constitutional right to be employed by a municipality while living elsewhere," the city's lawsuit states. Further, the new state law applies only to employees of political subdivisions, not private employers who require employees to live in a particular area.
Neither Williams nor leaders of the city's police and fire unions expected a mass exodus of employees from Youngstown, but a police union spokesman has said that group believes the state law is constitutional.
Williams is both encouraged and curious why some political leaders who supported the state law change now say it was a mistake. Chris Redfern, Ohio Democratic Party chairman, said just that about three weeks ago, when Redfern visited the city, Williams said.
Akron and Cleveland also went to court on Monday seeking to block the new state law that prohibits them and other municipalities from requiring police officers, firefighters and other employees to live in the city limits.
Akron's lawsuit was filed in Summit County Common Pleas Court and Cleveland's in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
Grendell said he expected the legal challenges and predicted the Ohio Supreme Court eventually will have to decide whether the Legislature has authority over municipalities on setting residency rules.
XThe Associated Press contributed to this report.